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Eiffel Tower Closed by Strike for 4th Day



Anthony Aranda, a 23-year-old tourist from Peru, had only two days to visit Paris with his cousin, so getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower featured prominently on his to-do list. But on Thursday, he had to cross it off that list without stepping foot on France’s famed Iron Lady.

A labor strike, now in its fourth day, was keeping the tower closed.

“We are traveling to London next, so this was our last chance,” Mr. Aranda said in the drizzling rain as he looked up at the wrought-iron monument. “That was the idea, at least.”

Mr. Aranda, who is studying electronic engineering in Spain, said he would get over the disappointment — adding, as striking workers banged drums nearby, that “they are just fighting for their rights.”

But in Paris, just months before the city is to host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, there are worries that the fight could turn into a protracted and highly visible labor dispute at one of the French capital’s most visited monuments. The site is so symbolic, in fact, that medals created for the Games will be encrusted with iron from the tower itself.

“It’s the image of France,” Olivia Grégoire, France’s minister in charge of tourism, told Sud Radio, adding that she understood the concerns of the Eiffel Tower workers.

The main allegation by unions representing the strikers is that financial mismanagement at the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, which operates the monument, is jeopardizing essential renovation work. The unionized workers have threatened to continue their walkout as long as necessary.

The tower operator and city officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this article. But City Hall has rejected accusations of neglect, denied that the tower suffered from dangerous corrosion and expressed confidence that the labor dispute would not stretch indefinitely.

“I have no particular worries about strikes during the Olympic Games,” Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris’s deputy mayor, told the broadcaster Franceinfo on Wednesday.

He acknowledged that the tower operator had suffered losses of about 130 million euros, about $140 million, during the pandemic. But he said that the city had “never failed in its duty” toward the monument.

“The city supports the Eiffel Tower — it’s its jewel,” Mr. Grégoire added. “We are going to get out of this situation. We trust the operating company to talk with workers and allay their concerns.”

Topping out at 1,083 feet — about three-quarters of the height of the Empire State Building, including its spire — the tower attracts nearly seven million tourists a year. But on Thursday morning, few were to be seen.

Visitors with tickets purchased online were emailed about the closure and reimbursed; the gloomy weather seemed to keep many others away. For the few who remained, the tower was a quick photo stop on the way to attractions like the Louvre Museum.

“It’s very beautiful,” Barkin Gursoy, a 24-year-old lawyer visiting from Istanbul, said of the tower as he walked by. “Even nicer in the rain.”

But labor unions say that beauty is under threat.

The city of Paris owns the Eiffel Tower and is a majority shareholder in the company that operates it, employing about 360 people. Under an agreement now being reviewed, the company pays a yearly fee to the city: It paid €8 million in 2021 in royalties and nearly €16 million in 2022.

Unions say the city is now asking for €50 million per year — a figure they fear will throttle the operator’s ability to keep the Eiffel Tower in good shape. The monument needs to be regularly stripped of old paint and given a fresh coat to prevent rust and other forms of deterioration.

On Thursday, more than 50 striking workers chanted slogans and waved union flags and signs near the staff entrance. One banner portrayed Mayor Anne Hidalgo milking the Eiffel Tower and accused her of using the monument as a “cash cow.”

Nada Bzioui, a representative of the Force Ouvrière union for Eiffel Tower workers, said at the site on Thursday that recent painting campaigns had gone over budget and were limited to the tower’s external-facing parts, hiding internal corrosion.

She said the unions were not against paying the city a fee, but wanted more financial breathing room. She also questioned the company’s continued ability to pay for maintenance costs and worker salaries.

“It’s a national monument,” Ms. Bzioui said. “We can’t let it decay like that.”

The unions had walked out over similar grievances in December, on the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustave Eiffel, the civil engineer whose company designed and built the monument. On Thursday, one of the union members’ signs referred to him, reading: “Town Hall is stuffing itself. Sorry, Gustave.” (It rhymes in French.)

“Workers have been ringing the alarm for months, even years,” Sophie Binet, the head of the Confédération Générale du Travail, France’s second-largest labor union, said at the tower during a visit to lend her support.

A handful of tourists watched from a distance as the workers protested. Many of the onlookers were understanding, including Mariana Pedrosa Ramos Pinto, 43, a teacher of English and French from southern Brazil who was in Paris with her husband to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.

“We were hoping to visit, but it’s OK, we can take pictures,” Ms. Ramos Pinto said as the couple sheltered under a blue umbrella. “It was more to appreciate it from the outside.”

After all, the couple noted, Brazil’s president is a former union leader. And many visitors already see France as a country where strikes are as common as baguettes.

“We weren’t expecting to climb up,” Ms. Ramos Pinto said, adding of the protest, “We were expecting something like this.”

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